What is a Brownfield?

What is a brownfield?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, a brownfield is “a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”

What is a Contaminant?

According to the Safe Drinking Water Act, a contaminant is “any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substance or matter” causing pollution and impurity.


Asbestos:  A collection of six fibrous materials that possess high tensile strength, flexibility, resistance to chemical and thermal degradation, and electrical resistance. Asbestos is most commonly used in insulation and fireproofing materials, automotive brakes and textile products, and cement and wallboard materials.  (source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Health impacts: asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer, heart and lung disease, immune system failure.

Petroleum: A collection of hydrocarbons that can lead to inefficient burning, pollution, damage to engine components, and other problems. Petroleum (gas, diesel) can have major detrimental impacts on both humans and the environment.  (sources: Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, United States Environmental Protection Borough)

  • Health impacts: nervous system failure, blood vessel and kidney disease, liver tumors, respiratory irritation, coma, skin cancer, leukemia, developmental complications.

Lead: A naturally occurring element found in small numbers in Earth’s crust, but can be toxic to humans and animals. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products, including paint, ceramics, pipes and plumbing materials, solders, gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.  (source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

  • Health impacts: heart, blood vessel and kidney disease, depression, reduced fertility.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): A group of manmade organic chemicals. Until their ban in 1979, PCBs were commonly used in fluorescent light bulbs, transformers, oil, and electrical equipment.  (source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

  • Health impacts: immune system failure, cancer, kidney and liver disease, reduced fertility, thyroid disorders.

Mercury and Methylmercury: Mercury in the form of Methylmercury is a combination of organic mercury compounds that is highly toxic to wildlife and humans. Methylmercury is found mostly in aquatic environments that impact freshwater fish, wildlife, and drinking water sources.  (source: ScienceDirect)

  • Health impacts: heart, blood vessel, lung, kidney and thyroid disease, cancer, neurological and behavioral disorders.

Brownfield Success Story: The Yukon Trading Post

The Yukon Trading Post in Circle, Alaska operated as a gas station from the 1970s to the 1990s, but is now owned by Danzhit Hanlaii Corporation. Three underground storage tanks were removed in 1995, yet there was still petroleum-contaminated soil as of late June 2018. The Trading Post is located very close to the community’s boat launch, tribal hall, and community gathering place.

After multiple community meetings, the residents of Circle proposed three potential reuse scenarios, each depending on the environmental contamination results:

  1. A Kid’s Don’t Float bulletin board, due its proximity to the boat launch
  2. A staging area for aluminum can recycling, due to its central location
  3. A cultural monument due to its proximity to the hall.

The environmental contamination results will also look at groundwater (contributes to drinking water source) quality. Due to the environmental and public health risks, observed contamination, land ownership, and reuse plan, the Yukon Trading Post site in Circle, Alaska is a great example of a brownfield site.